OXFORD — After having provided services such as syringe exchanges, Granville-Vance Public Health received the Local Health Department of the Year award presented by the N.C. AIDS Action Network.

The network presented the honor virtually during its annual HIV advocacy conference on Nov. 13.

“It’s just such an honor to be recognized by a group like the N.C. AIDS Action Network,” said Lisa Harrison, director of Granville-Vance Public Health. “They’re a very well respected advocacy network and they’re made up of people who, across North Carolina, are passionate about people being able to access care when they need it.”

Lee Storrow, executive director of the N.C. AIDS Action Network, physically presented the award to Harrison in an outdoor, socially distanced ceremony on Oct. 22.

Storrow said Granville-Vance Public Health was one of the first health departments in the state to operate a syringe program after the N.C. General Assembly legalized them in 2016.

“Getting used needles out of the street, out of public circulation and getting folks access to new needles and new syringes, it’s just a really smart public health intervention,” he said. “And so, they’ve been certainly a leader on that issue.”

Additionally he said it’s “also just so clear” that when tackling the opioid epidemic, HIV and hepatitis, “having providers who are really invested in the community, who are meeting people where they are, who are acknowledging folks’ whole humanity … being compassionate in terms of providing care, it’s just really, really, important,” he said.

“Granville-Vance and the team there at the health department have really taken that focus in their work and service for the two counties,” Storrow said.

Harrison said that under Medical Director Shauna Guthrie’s leadership, Granville-Vance Public Health started the primary care Medication Assisted Treatment and Syringe Exchange program in Granville and Vance counties over the course of the last five years.

The Local Health Department of the Year Award itself is earmarked for local health departments that have “demonstrated exemplary work and service,” have enriched the lives of people living with HIV and hepatitis in their community, and that have worked to prevent new HIV transmissions, N.C. AIDS Action Network officials said.

The network says it tries to improve the lives of people living with HIV and AIDS and affected communities via outreach and public education, policy advocacy and community-building.

“It was definitely such an honor and very exciting to have our staff recognized for some of the hard and innovative work that they do,” Harrison said. “I was just so pleased and humbled at the same time.”